by Neal Watts – Warrior Goalie Designer
As many of you know, Pete Smith has been designing goalie gear for a long time. In fact, this year marks Pete’s 30th anniversary in the business of designing and building goalie equipment.
In 1986, the summer before his senior year of high school, Pete made his first sale. It was a blocker and trapper set that he made in his parent’s basement. He had brought a sample pair of gloves he built to a goalie camp to show his childhood idol Dan Bouchard (Quebec Nordiques) who was coaching that week. He received his first order from a fellow camper and thus he began his career in the goalie business. By 1987, Pete was designing and building pads and gloves for the retail market as a contractor for the brand Victoriaville (Vic).
From his early days in the business, Pete was an innovator. In 1990, he started building pads for Tom Barrasso. That season, Tom and the Pittsburgh Penguins got off to a shaky start. About 10 games in to the season, Barrasso switched into a new pad designed and built by Pete. With its unique hinged knee and ankle design, the pads looked like nothing else on the market at the time. The foam core design and all white shell looked boxy and, quite frankly, bizarre compared to all the soft and squishy dear hair stuffed leather pads of the era. They may have looked strange, but they worked for Barrasso. He immediately went 8 and 0, before capping off a solid season with a Stanley Cup championship, then winning the Cup again the next year. As odd as they may have looked, those pads were way ahead of their time.
Fast forward 10 years and leg pads across the market had, in some ways, evolved. Most manufactures had long since abandoned dear hair in favor of foam internals, making pads lighter and more rigid. They all had abandoned real leather outer shells in favor of lighter synthetic leathers. Some goalies had started using toe laces instead of leather toe straps, but aside from these material evolutions, the design of legs pads hadn’t fundamentally changed.
Between 1997 and 2000, Pete Smith designed, what would become, the Velocity leg pads. At a glance they were squarer and flatter than any of their contemporaries. However, the true innovation they introduced was a dedicated knee landing block. Up to that point, there were inner knee flaps on leg pads meant to protect the inner knee, but these were never really designed to act as the primary landing surface for the knee. Thus, goalies would land partially on the face of the pad forcing the pad to twist and contort under the goalie’s leg. The Velocity pad was designed to easily rotate into the butterfly position with the goalie’s knee landing directly on a thick raised knee block. Rather than tilting toward the ice at a 45 degree angle, the face of the pad would sit completely perpendicular to the ice and present the most possible blocking surface squarely to the shooter.
The knee landing block, along with the many other new features that Pete implemented into his designs during the early 2000’s changed the way leg pads were built and designed but it also dramatically changed the way goalies used their leg pads. From this point forward, goalies began to view the inner edge of the leg pad as a stable landing surface that could be utilized to create a hard seal along the ice. More importantly, this feature also provided the foundation for a new type of lateral mobility; butterfly slides.
Fast forward another decade to 2011. By then, the leg pad market had adopted the square-ness and flatness of Pete’s designs as well as the raised knee block and other butterfly enhancing features. Some had evolved to be stiffer and more board-like than others, but the same basic construction principles hadn’t changed.
A few years after Warrior started building goalie gear, Pete was hired to take over the Warrior goalie category. As with Warrior’s founder, Dave Morrow, Pete was a forward thinker and never accepted the status quo of what gear should be, just the possibility of what it could become. He brought with him a wealth of experience as a craftsman from his two plus decades of pattern making, sewing and hand building products from the earliest prototypes to the finished retail products. However, more important than his experience as a craftsman, Pete brought a philosophy of design innovation that is un-paralleled in the industry.
From his earliest days at Warrior, Pete insisted that the only way we could succeed in the goalie market was to offer products that look different and perform better than anything else available. The market was already saturated with brands delivering products that were built with very similar construction methods, as well as having very similar performance features and characteristics. In order for customers to believe in us and our products, we would need to deliver them something more than they expected from the other brands.
I remember our first meetings with Pete. He showed us the Smith 6000 pad (which would become the platform for our Ritual line of goalie pads). I remember its unique binding-less boot design and core construction seemed a bit jarring to me, but the pad was really light and after trying it out on the synthetic ice, I immediately understood the benefits of the design. At that point, I was a rookie designer in the goalie business having started with Warrior just a year earlier. Prior to Pete’s arrival, our design process was purely iterative. We designed mostly on computer screens. We would identify features and characteristics that we liked in goalie products and tried to tweak them to make improvements.
Pete asked us to work completely differently. He wanted Warrior goalie to become the performance/innovation leader in the industry. In order to achieve this, he asked us to throw out all of our preconceptions about how goalie products were built. He challenged us to look at the performance of a goalie product and re-imagine the possibilities for how it could be built and function differently and better. He insisted that in order to truly design innovative product, that could also be manufactured efficiently, we must learn the hands on skills of building goalie equipment; pattern making, prototype building and sewing.
Almost six years later, I can tell you that this process has been extremely challenging, but equally rewarding. As a designer, it’s very exciting to be given the mandate to come up with something completely new. It’s also somewhat daunting given the immense amount of work required to go from a good idea to a good product! In the time since Pete came on board, we’ve sent the Ritual 1, G2 and G3 lines to market featuring a host of new performance innovations. We’ve seen ever increasing success with each new product release. With more new products slated for release, and even more ideas in the pipeline, we expect our momentum to keep growing.
In my opinion, no single designer has brought as many innovations to the advancement of goalie gear as Pete Smith has across his career. We are fortunate to have him at the helm of our goalie category. Join us in celebrating his 30 years in the goalie equipment business. We know the best is still to come!